BA HUM BUG! That is what I say under my breath when people invite me to another holiday party. That is what I feel baking my traditional cookies and putting up those old, familiar decorations. I cry out when I think of Christmas’ past, and the fact that nothing will ever be the same again. I wonder if those around me, so eager for me to get back to normal, think of me as Scrooge, or the Grinch that is stealing Christmas? But it is my grief that is stealing Christmas.
Maybe it’s my Irish temper, but I don’t want grief to win, to rob me of one more thing. So, I buy a small already decorated and lit Norfolk pine to serve as my Christmas tree. I put on Christmas songs when my stress builds up and I welcome the flow of tears. I say “no” to invitations too difficult to endure, or I drive myself so I always have a way to escape
I only make one kind of Christmas cookie this year, my husband’s favorite, and I eat them as I look through old photographs. I buy a Love Light in honor of Chris to decorate the tree at a local hospital instead of buying other gifts. I cry. I mourn. I take care of me, the only way I know how. And I pray for the best gift of all, the day in the future that I will again experience a holiday with joy.
After the loss of a loved one, our own high expectations of the holidays can set us up for more frustration and guilt. When we can’t measure up to our mental picture of how things ought to be, it is overwhelming. If the death is recent, you might feel numb much of the holiday season, or re-experience a new wave of grief during later holidays.
There is a wonderful article available through the American Hospice Foundation entitled, “Coping with Holidays and Family Celebrations.” The author, Helen Fitzgerald reminds us that as the holiday season approaches, anticipating the holiday is often worse than the day itself. She suggests making a plan for the holiday, or if you find it difficult to make decisions, at least think about what you don’t want to do.
She offers a checklist of traditions that you might want to keep versus those things you find difficult to face. She also gives practical advice about how to help keep your loved one part of the day such as lighting a candle to honor them, encouraging guests to say a prayer in memory of your loved one, or to handwrite a memory of the person to share after the meal. There are many ways to create a day that will be your own expression of the love you had for the deceased, as well as a lesson to others about self-care.
Resources that might be valuable to you as we approach the holidays may include:
- Calling local hospitals or funeral homes to get schedules of upcoming lectures or classes.
- Online resources such as AARP Grief and Loss Programs: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-12-2012/death-loss-christmas-holidays-goyer.html
- American Hospice Foundation: https://www.americanhospice.org/
- Center for Loss & Life Transition: http://www.centerforloss.com/
- The book entitled, A Decembered Grief by Harold Ivan Smith.
- CareNotes publications from One Caring Place such as “Getting through the Holidays When You’ve Lost a Loved One.” The website is http://www.onecaringplace.com/or call 1-800-325-2511 for a complete catalog of titles available.
My hope for all of you, who have heavy hearts, is for you to seek those opportunities to throw off the covers, get out of bed and to find ways to re-enter life. And I pray for you to receive gifts, “presence” that really matter. Time spent with those who love you. Opportunities for you to serve others and the courage to honor the life that was lost with the life you are living.
May the peace of this Holy Season be with you all.